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The Exam Whisperer

Slide #01

Introduce self and aims of session:

I want to change the way we think about our exam students
I want to change the way exam students think about themselves
I want to try and focus on the person rather than on the exam

Slide #02

Quick discussion Pairs or threes

What was the last exam you did?
How did you feel before the exam? Why did you feel that way?
How did you feel after the exam?

Slide #03

Word diamonds. Display the slide.

Model the concept start with the word fish and ask participants to
give you associations. Work through the boarded example.

Divide the room into three groups. Group A gets exam, Group B gets
pass and Group C gets fail.

Each group can work together to complete their word diamonds.

Then come back together to compare efforts.

Feedback What conclusions did you come to? What do you think it all means? This can be a
good way of finding out from your students what their feelings towards exams are in general
and towards their exam in particular.

Why do you think students feel that way?

Slide #04

A lot of it comes from how students see themselves and whether they
think of themselves as a good student or a bad student again, briefly,
what do you think are the qualities of a good or bad student?

David Petrie
The Exam Whisperer

Slide #05

Heres what my students said when I asked them..

This was from a group of 13 & 14 year old intermediate students, so do
bear that in mind!

Now you look at what they have to say about themselves look at how
they judge themselves!

Its all about the numbers and its all about the grades. So it seems to me as though when
students look at themselves they are always seeing themselves in a negative connotation
they want that fabled 100% and see themselves as somehow lacking if they fail to achieve it.


Lets step sideways for a minute.

Here are some slips of paper with certain characteristics on them

working in groups of three, Id like you to categorise them in terms of
whether you think they belong to a confident learner or an anxious one.

Divide room into 12 groups and give participants chopped up copies of

Handout #01.

Allow time for discussion.

Get some content feedback were there any you found difficult to place?

Slide #07

These are the suggested answers are there any you disagree with?

These come from a variety of sources.

The ones I find particularly interesting are the ones about intrinsic and
extrinsic motivation does that gel with your experience? Students
who want to be there for themselves and those who are there just
because their parents say so?

Also the role of error and what it means for them. Finally, reflection on the positive vs the

Slide #08

So how do we help move students from this negative place to a more

positive place?

I want to hand this back over to you for a moment.

Small group discussion and feedback open class

David Petrie
The Exam Whisperer

Slide #09
I want to bring this a bit closer to exam class teaching for the moment,
and in that context there are three main areas of focus:
Subject knowledge
Task Knowledge


Subject knowledge is obviously the province of the years and years of

language tuition that the learners have been through knowledge of
systems and skills, and knowledge ABOUT systems and skills.

Helping students to achieve self-knowledge?

Can Do Statements ALTE website repurposed the CEFR into can do
Help students to analyse what they can do and what they DO do.


Self-knowledge is a bit more difficult to come by. Johari Window?

Donald Rumsfeld known knowns, known unknowns and unknown

Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham 1955.

Way it works: participants given a list of adjectives, choose for

themselves. Peers also choose from same list to describe participant. Results put into the
grid. 56 original adjectives some examples on the right (full list via Wikipedia).

Small groups what do you think the ELT equivalents might be?

Slide #12

This brings us onto task knowledge, because in the exam context and
in trying to reduce exam anxiety, we are trying to relate learner self
awareness to their exam achievements.

We also need to rework the ALTE can do statements, because ALTE

relate their statements to CEFR, not to specific exams, which we might
be working with.

So lets look at an exam in more detail. Ive chosen the Cambridge English Advanced exam
because its one Im teaching this year, but this process can of course be applied to any exam
youre teaching in your school.

Put participants into five groups and each group one aspect of the exam paper. Groups use
the handouts to come up with as many I can statements for their bit of the exam.

David Petrie
The Exam Whisperer

Five minutes
Regroup participants so each new group has at least one participant from the old groups.
Share and compare.

Slide #13

Feedback Here are my ideas. How do they compare?

Advantage of Cambridge is that a lot of this information is in the teacher

handbooks, but not all of it!

Slide #14

So moving back to assessment So once we have this understanding of

what the exam or test requires, we can move the learners back to
understanding what they can do:

Self assessment
Peer Assessment
Teacher Assessment

Slide #15

Finish with a quote Monica Green at the DOS conference: this struck a
chord with me because I know I always mean to do stuff and I do think
of myself in terms of the things that I want or mean to do not in terms
of the things I actually get done. I wonder if our students do the same?

Slide #16

All this will be available from my blog shortly: www.teflgeek.net

The Cambridge exam tasks are taken from the Cambridge English:
Advanced handbook, available to download from the Cambridge

Image Credits:
All images are royalty free and are taken from Unsplash.com

Photographer credits:
Austin Schmid / Mikael Kristenson / Harman Abiwardani / Tony Webster / Marleen

David Petrie
The Exam Whisperer

Handout #01: Characteristics of a candidate

admits when they dont

is a happy person learn from their mistakes

reflects on positive
freely expresses their opinions feels good about their abilities

is ambitious is intrinsically motivated asks for help

blames other people for their may have difficulty

is extrinsically motivated
mistakes concentrating
focuses on the negatives of an
thinks in extremes (Always, feels they should do better
outcome and ignores the
never etc) than they did
thinks other people think they blames themselves when
predicts failure for themselves
are no good things go wrong

David Petrie
The Exam Whisperer

David Petrie